Using Technology To Overcome Cultural Barriers In The Classroom

By Katherine Hawes.

Never before have teachers had such strenuous demands placed upon them to master new ways to teach new skills.

In order to effectively educate students in the digital age, teachers must be prepared to gain new knowledge and skills, be aware of how technology is used in the workplace and how to use the right technologies to support student learning.

Technology is now used for conducting research, evaluating sources of information, displaying data, solving problems and working collaboratively on written and oral presentations. The richest uses of technology are those which engage students in active learning while achieving meaningful learning goals. However, technology is also beneficial to break down social and cultural barriers and support multicultural settings.

Due to language barriers, international students often find physical approachability to be more daunting than helpful. Therefore, communication tools such email, intranets, videoconferencing, electronic bulletin boards, messaging systems and virtual teams are useful in breaking down language and cultural barriers while encouraging communication and collaboration. However, not all tools have universal acceptance, so it is important that educators be flexible in allowing students to choose whatever mode of communication they feel most comfortable with.

I was working with a large group of MBA students this year, lecturing on business law. The students were from a range of different cultures and languages. Experience shows that overseas students often struggle with ‘legal language’, along with the added complication of creating an argument rather than there being a perfect answer to each question. As a result, students tend to collaborate with their own cultural groups, rather than diversifying. To assist with learning, I introduced a range of technology-based tools that included:

  1. Today’s Meet – This is a fantastic tool for those who teach to large groups of students where English is not their first language. It is simply a virtual classroom where students can type questions into the program while a lecture is taking place. This encourages students to ask questions, (particularly if their spoken English skills are a work in progress) whilst the lecture is happening. The lecturer can view those questions on the screen and can either answer immediately or wait until the end of the class. An added bonus is that the students do not even have to use their real names, which encourages those students who would not generally raise their hand to ask a question.
  2. Kahoot – This is a great game-based tool that assists in providing instant feedback to students in a non-assessable environment. Kahoot questions can be tailored depending on the goals of the session and again, it allows international students to participate easily. With a recent class, I mixed up the cultural groups and then tailored the length of time and difficulty of the questions to the group’s needs. In making this more of a game-based learning technique, it allows for increased team participation and reduces shyness and embarrassment in working with others from different cultural backgrounds.

 

The use of technology in the classroom provides an intercultural, multidisciplinary, blended learning experience in higher education that achieves the goals of breaking down classroom walls and bridging geographical distance and cultural barriers. The students with different skills, coming from different countries and cultures, and interacting with others enlarges the possibilities of creativity, collaboration and quality work.

Katherine Hawes is the founder of Aquarius Education. As well as running her own legal practice, she combines her passion of law and education by lecturing at several universities across Australia. Katherine can be contacted via www.aquariuseducation.com

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